As a Portland-based writer, educator, and DJ, Emilly Prado is one of the most unique triple threats out there. She worked as a sought-after journalist before publishing her debut essay collection Funeral for Flaca last year. It’s a Chicana memoir-in-essays documenting all the joys and hardships of her life. From growing up the daughter of Mexican and Mexican-American parents, to finding her voice in emo music as a teenager, to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her writing is refreshingly honest, vulnerable, and intimate. The book has received critical acclaim, even winning the prestigious 2022 Pacific Northwest Book Award!
Sofía Aguilar and Emilly Prado met up over Zoom to discuss the collection, how DJ-ing and writing intertwine in her work, and her in-progress follow-up to Funeral for Flaca.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Before you wrote Funeral for Flaca, you worked as a journalist at several media publications. How was the experience the same and/or different from writing this collection of essays?
EMILLY PRADO: My background isn’t in writing originally. In school, I studied media studies and education. While both of those have given me a path to where I am now a teaching artist and have half a decade of journalism under my belt, it was a different writing style. But journalism helped me bridge from writing in an academic tone to writing for public audiences. Then a variety of writing workshops I’ve taken in both fiction and nonfiction helped my writing become an immersive read like a novel, where the scene unfolds and you’re following along.
[Funeral for Flaca] was a different process on a craft level. On top of that, because it’s a personal narrative, I’m excavating and revealing my personal memories and showing myself on the page in a way that I never do in journalism where I’m talking about other people’s stories. Having your own secrets and unsavory thoughts revealed for folks is a much different experience but one I am grateful to be continuing to build towards.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What have you learned about the writing and/or publishing process that you didn’t know before?
EMILLY PRADO: The biggest thing has been understanding how the publishing industry works. I feel like I had a decent sense, had done a lot of research, was a member of the Authors Guild, attended professional development panels and conferences. But there is a level of the process that you can’t understand until you’re going through it. From the rounds of edits to the norms of placing “companion pieces” ahead of time before publication. How intense the launch and also afterward is.
The other thing was understanding my positionality with a small press that’s run by one person primarily and amazing interns and supporters. [It’s very different than] someone who’s publishing with a major house who has a sizable advance and whole teams working on what I’m trying to pull off with the help of one other person. I hope that in talking about my experience with publishing and being transparent about it, other folks get a better sense of what could be to come for them.
Journalism helped me bridge from writing in an academic tone to writing for public audiences.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did you decide to structure the book’s table of contents and titles in the style of a tracklist?
EMILLY PRADO: I’m a DJ, which is one of the reasons I was excited to incorporate music more prominently in the collection. One of the very first essays that I wrote is called “Keep Ya Head Up” where Tupac is mentioned, and that song is a prominent theme in that essay and in my life. I attribute that song to helping me survive. In conversation with a mentor that I had through a writing workshop program, she was like, “Why don’t you structure the whole collection around that? Then all the other essays can have song titles as well.” So for each essay, I would look at particular themes or think about a song that was playing and that I associate with that time. Plus, zooming out further—what genres are represented? What aren’t? As a DJ, it’s important to showcase that my style varies, that there is merit in many genres.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Throughout the book, you often admitted you didn’t know someone was there or that someone might’ve said something different from what you remember. In real life, how did you navigate discovering your memories don’t align with others’?
EMILLY PRADO: I included those moments because there’s this obsession with narrators in literature and whether they’re reliable or unreliable. But if you’ve ever read anything about eyewitness reports, we as humans tend to be really unreliable. We are not the best keepers of precise details and time, and I wanted to lean into that in the book. I have had conversations with folks who say, “I don’t remember that this way” or request that “It would’ve been nice to have a heads-up that this memory was mentioned in here,” which is valid and has been informing my practice. I’m in an MFA program right now at Randolph College for creative writing and my mentor has been encouraging me to “imagine around the corner.” So giving myself the creative liberty to envision those spaces. But she also says that there is truth in feeling and impact, and I’ve been sitting with that a lot, trying to push myself more in my next book and imagine. There is truth in the overall story, and that should count for something.
The book I’ve been working on dives into… what it was like to be in the hospital, how we navigated it as a family, and how I individually had to continue my life and move forward.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Can you speak about the work you do for Portland in Color? For readers who may not know, what is the collective about?
EMILLY PRADO: Portland in Color is an initiative that I co-founded with my creative partner Celeste Noche in 2017 that built off a photo series that she was doing, photographing BIPOC artists in Portland. The idea was to amplify the work of folks in Portland and push back against the narrative that Portland is so white. Because yes, it is one of the whitest cities in the U.S. but there are a lot of amazing BIPOC creatives there. From there, it grew. We created a website with a directory so that we could combat the narrative, “I don’t know any diverse creatives!” as far as hiring goes, and we have had a lot of folks getting work through the platform. We also do workshops around professional development, whether that’s how to create a website or write a bio or financial literacy/taxes for artists. Ultimately, we want to support BIPOC artists in Portland and hopefully sustain their creative livelihoods so that they can support themselves financially through art.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What other projects have you been working on lately?
EMILLY PRADO: One of the essays in Funeral for Flaca is called, “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers,” which explores what it was like for me to be hospitalized with bipolar disorder and what led up to that. The book I’ve been working on dives into that topic much more closely, what it was like to be in the hospital, how we navigated it as a family, and how I individually had to continue my life and move forward.
Order Funeral for Flaca and follow Emilly on Instagram and Twitter!